Chili lime marinated chicken, cilantro lime dressing, and a heap of veggies come together to make this hearty and savory Southwest Chicken Salad. Perfect for meal prep and healthy dinners!
The flavors in this healthy and filling salad are redefining what classic Southwest Chicken Salads should taste like! We’re going above and beyond by marinating the chicken in a load of spices and lime juice, making our own creamy cilantro lime dressing, and layering on the best toppings, like black beans, corn, avocado, and juicy cherry tomatoes.
Instead of cooking the chicken in a southwest sauce, we’ll first marinate it for a minimum of 30 minutes to ensure the smokey, spicy, and tangy flavors absorb into the meat. This results in a much juicer and tender chicken with a delicious crust on the outside. Sliced and topped onto a bed of lettuce and veggies, it’s the real star of this dish and helps transform the salad into a substantial meal.
Tossed in a creamy cilantro lime dressing, this southwestern chicken salad recipe packs a punch and doesn’t skip on the flavors. It’s a fresh and healthy choice you can make ahead of time for weekday lunches and dinners.
Ingredients you’ll need
- Chili lime marinated chicken breasts – Marinating skinless and boneless chicken in a spicy, tangy, and zesty marinade lends BIG flavor! Made with a handful of spices, ancho chili pepper, white wine vinegar, and lime juice, the chicken marinade is well-balanced and makes each bite mouthwatering.
- Romaine lettuce – It isn’t a salad without the lettuce! If you don’t have romaine at home, feel free to swap it for another green, like kale, spinach, butter lettuce, or iceberg lettuce.
- Salad toppings – Beef up this salad with fresh veggies like cherry tomatoes, black beans, corn, red onion, and avocado. You could even add some cotija cheese and guacamole for extra creaminess or crumbled tortilla chips for a crunch.
- Cilantro lime dressing – This creamy and tangy dressing can be served with just about everything. Made from cilantro, plain Greek yogurt, honey, lime juice, and a few other ingredients.
How to make southwest chicken salad
- Marinate the chicken: Place the chicken breasts in a bowl or zip-loc bag with all of the marinade ingredients. Leave it to marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Cook the chicken: Working in 2 batches, cook the chicken in a hot skillet on both sides until it reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF. Transfer it to a cutting board and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing.
- Make the dressing: Place all of the dressing ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Assemble the salad: Add the lettuce, salad toppings, and sliced chicken to a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing on top, toss it all together, and serve!
Tips and variations
- For the best flavor, leave the chicken to marinate anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. It shouldn’t be left any longer or else the acid will start to affect the texture of the meat.
- Want to make a vegan southwest salad? Replace the chicken with a plant-based alternative, chickpeas, or roasted sweet potatoes instead.
- Serve it with a different dressing, like my cilantro lime crema, chipotle sauce, or a citrus vinaigrette.
Making ahead and storing
I can’t think of a better salad to make ahead for weekday lunches. It’s full of protein, fats, and vegetables to fill you up and keep your energy levels high all day long.
To make ahead, cook the chicken and make the dressing. Store the chicken, salad, and dressing in separate containers. When it’s lunchtime, toss them all together and enjoy.
To reheat, place the chicken in the microwave and heat for 1 or 2 minutes until it’s warmed through. Assemble it on the salad and enjoy.